Monday, February 16, 2009

Oscar Countdown: Will "Slumdog" Fall?

With less than a week until the Oscars, it's time to heavily analyze the entire race, turn it inside out, and then make those final ballsy predictions.  I mean, I predicted "Crash" for Best Picture in 2005 (seriously, I did), only to retract it at the last moment because Brokeback just seemed destined to win.  At this point in the game, you would seriously have to be an idiot or have gigantic balls to bet against Slumdog winning Best Picture and Best Director.  But if it loses, I won't be surprised.  Here's why:

The lack of acting nominations - only 2 films in the last twenty years have won Best Picture without a single acting nomination (Braveheart and Return of the King).  The former awarded a Hollywood insider (Mel Gibson), the latter was a coronation of a supreme technical accomplishment after three films.  Where does Slumdog fit into this paradigm?  Not to mention both films featured casts with at least marginally well-known stars - Slumdog has NO American/British actors in ANY role of noticeable size.  If it wins, it will be the first film to do so.

Benjamin Button has 13 nominations - and traditionally the film with the most nominations is the front-runner.  About 70% of the time.  Button is a curious case (ha) to me: it has SO many nominations and has only a small collection of awards, all of them minor.  It's not a candidate for the top categories, I don't think, but could it snag 3-4 tech wins? Absolutely.  I think it's a dangerous demon, especially because it's the kind of film the Academy would love to award.

The Reader has not been a Best Picture contender in any competition yet.  True, for Harvey Weinstein to pull off a Picture win here would require him to debunk the greatest Oscar stat of all - you can't win without a Best Editing nomination (it's been true for 19 years).  But could his slow and steady internal campaign generate more than a Best Actress statue?  Probably not, but the film did get 5 nominations - explain to me how that happened.

And a year that sticks out in my mind...

CHICAGO (2002) - 13 nominations, tons of precursor awards, clean-swept the Guilds, won the Globe, etc.  Everyone was predicting it to steam-roll the Oscars and take 8 or 9.  It ended up with 6 - still respectable and impressive by any stretch of the imagination - but The Pianist erupted out of nowhere and won Actor, Director, and Screenplay.  Can Milk be that film? The one that quietly sat on the sidelines until the Academy jumps for it?  Usually (not always) when a movie peaks like Slumdog does, it can inspire a backlash where the Academy ground-swells for another film.  Brokeback is a great example (although a different context).  No Country for Old Men and The Departed are different - to me, at least - because both of those films essentially awarded directors who had exceptional careers and hadn't won Oscars.  The Coens and Martin Scorsese are NOT Danny Boyle (but then again, no director from this year IS).

Not to mention the Golden Globe has been a kiss of death for at least five years.

It's EXTREMELY rare for everyone in the industry to come around a single film like this.  The odds for Slumdog winning are so good it's frightening, but I smell a surprise Picture/Director split.  I'll probably be wrong and Slumdog will win 8-9 awards and we'll all be sick of it by the end of the night.  But a film with this much momentum almost ALWAYS hits some kind of wall.  Don't forget The Departed still had Babel and Little Miss Sunshine to compete with, and No Country for Old Men had There Will Be Blood and didn't win a single tech award.  Slumdog's win both makes sense but is complete anomalous because its win would be the first of its kind.

Since I watched The Departed last night, I quote Jack Nicholson: "I smell a rat." And his name is Benjamin Button.  Be careful.

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